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A Fitness Guide for People With No Free Time (And Who Don’t Want to Give Up Being Foodies)

This installment of The Normal Person’s Workout sees a dinner-loving former sports nut try to stay in shape while recovering from a shoulder injury

Don’t have three hours a day to spend at the gym? Not interested in bulging like a bodybuilder? Unmoved by promises of “fat-blasting, ab-chiseling monster workouts”? This is the column for you, fellow regular human with very little free time.

The Man

Matt, Edmonton, Alberta
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 205 pounds
Goal: To get lean without having to change his diet

His Time Commitment (Or Lack Thereof): “In the summer, I work full-time at a desk job,” Matt tells us. “I bike to and from work — roughly 6 kilometers — with a big hill each way, which takes about 20 minutes. I’m not a morning person and roll out of bed as late as possible, so I always rush in the mornings to make it in time (it’s my motivation to pedal faster). Once I’m home and showered, I have about four hours before I go to sleep, since I cherish my eight hours (seven at the absolute minimum). Between cooking, doing stuff around the house, studying and getting a bit of unwind time at the end of the day, I don’t have that much time to head to the gym.

“During the winter, I’m a part-time student, so I’m basically sitting all day. The difference is that I don’t bike at all. I occasionally get in some snowboarding or hockey at the outdoor rinks, but nothing too intense.

“Food-wise, I eat a smaller breakfast than I should (a small bowl of cereal and a banana), then usually a sandwich or leftovers for lunch as well as tons of fruits and vegetables. Supper is where I really lack: Not many greens, usually lots of meat and carbs. I’m especially terrible on the weekends, when I’ll usually have a big brunch and eat out in the evenings. I like to think I’m a foodie, so although it’s not fast food, it’s still very rich. Add to that a hearty amount of beers and some late-night snacking (nachos, poutine, etc.), and yeah, it’s a lot of calories.

“Another factor is that some nights, I mix in weed, which doesn’t help with the munchies (although I’ve been getting better at that). When I smoke, I’m totally up for lighter activities — bike rides, walks and frisbee. But by no means would I go for a hard run or hit the gym while high.”

Exercise He’s Actually Willing to Do: “Realistically, I’d say two or three 30-minute to 45-minute workouts on weekday evenings would be good, and an hour on either Saturday or Sunday. I get free use of the gym at school, but by the end of the day, I usually just want to get out of there. So ideally, maybe a mixture of gym stuff and things I could do at home or outside would work best.

“I also love playing sports — swimming and lacrosse in particular. But unfortunately, I’ve got a labral tear in my right shoulder, which means I can’t do anything that uses my shoulder lot. I can, however, do things that don’t require my arm/elbow to come above shoulder height.”

What He Wants: “Since the injury, slowly but surely, the pounds have been creeping up, and I’d really like to stop that. At the end of the day, all I want is to not change my diet too much (I realize some tweaks will be needed) and get back to roughly 190 pounds, which I felt my best at. (I’d settle for staying around 200 pounds, but with no evidence of a gut.) My lacrosse days are over, but I’d still like to be mediocre at cardio at the very least. I don’t care about getting huge; I just want to be leaner.”

The Plan

Choose Wisely: “Losing 15 pounds shouldn’t be a difficult goal to attain,” says personal trainer Lalo Fuentes. “But your diet needs to change for sure. It’s okay to still be a foodie — after all, this is your lifestyle, and you don’t want to deprive yourself of the good stuff. That said, follow this rule: If it’s not great, it’s not worth it. Things like chocolate chip cookies, for example, should be a no-go. On the flip side, if you’re at dinner and there’s an amazing dessert, go ahead and order it — but share it with one or two other friends. Limit your portions, eat slowly and stop when you’re satisfied. Drink lots of water while eating dinner to prevent yourself from overeating, and eliminate the beers and have one glass of wine instead.

“At home, get rid of all the unhealthy snacks and replace them with healthy ones like hummus and celery. If I have a chocolate bar at home, I’m going to want to eat it, so I don’t have it available. Save the unhealthy snacks for when you go to the movies.”

Eat a Better Breakfast: “You’re only putting empty carbs in your body right now,” says Fuentes. “A 6-foot-1 man shouldn’t be eating cereal and banana for breakfast! You need something more substantial in the morning, then something light for dinner.”

His options for a more substantial breakfast (the first for a more leisurely morning, the second for when on-the-go):

  • 1 full egg, plus another 3 egg whites, cooked whichever way you like
  • ½ an avocado
  • 1 slice of whole grain toast

Put the eggs and avocado on the toast and make it like a crostini.

  • ½ cup oatmeal
  • 1 tablespoon maca powder (for energy)
  • 1 teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon (to speed up your metabolism)
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds (protein, energy and fiber)
  • ½ cup frozen blueberries (full of antioxidants, and also acts as the ice to chill the drink)
  • 1 handful raw spinach (your veggie serving!)
  • 1 serving chocolate protein powder
  • Unsweetened almond milk — pour it in last until it covers all the other ingredients

Blend and serve.

And a Better Lunch and Dinner, Too: “A sandwich for lunch isn’t substantial — it’s full of carbs. Have some chicken or meat with vegetables instead, and make sure to add some grains as well. Something like grilled chicken with lentils and brown rice would be great — you can add some olive oil on top of your lentils, or the other half of the avocado from your breakfast.

“If you’re eating at home, focus on having a light dinner, like grilled or baked salmon on top of arugula salad. You don’t even need dressing for this, since the arugula has a spicy kick to it. If you still feel hungry, you can have some protein powder with almond milk 30 minutes before going to bed, which will keep you from eating unhealthy snacks late at night.”

Raging Cycle Path: “In terms of exercise to lose weight, keep biking, but on your way back from work, choose a different route that’s twice as long. That way, you already have your workout done for the day, and you can kill two birds with one stone. Change routes once in a while to keep things interesting so you enjoy it. It’s all in your mind — you can choose to hate it, or to look at it as a fun way to get in shape.

“If you do all of the above, you should be able to get rid of those 15 pounds within three to four months, while not changing your lifestyle drastically.”

The Reaction

Does This Advice Sound Like It’s Going to Fit in With Your Foodie Lifestyle? “This is totally doable!” says Matt. “It’s funny, just a week or so ago I decided I should try splitting an appetizer and entrée rather than doing my own entrées. Given the portion size of some meals these days, sharing is definitely something I need to keep in mind to still be able to try lots of new foods.”

How Do You Feel About Making Yourself a Big Breakfast, Then Going Lighter for the Rest of the Day? “This one is going to be a challenge, because as you can see from how I’ve been eating, I’m usually the complete opposite: I normally start light and then go with larger, denser portions come suppertime.”

Do You Have a Nice Alternate Route You Can Bike Home? “This shouldn’t be a problem until the snow flies, which is going to be a reality sooner than I’d like to think. Maybe I can use the stationary bike over winter? All in all though, this is solid advice, and I’ll try to stick with it.”